He was born Julius Henry, son of Minnie and Sam “Frenchie” Marx in 1890. He left school at the age of 12 to go to work on stage and, with the help of his brothers, he would become one of the most successful entertainers of all time. Through the ranks of vaudeville, Groucho Marx shot up like grease-painted lightning to a time when a new phenomenon, the “movies” were the hottest thing going.
Eventually he would move on from his brothers to a solo career, mostly playing himself, living true to his nom de plume while still being loved by millions, hosting television and radio shows, making pop culture history on talk shows and writing books. Groucho has always held a special place with me. He was funny, largely self-educated, quick, curious and successful.
I’ve tried to instill in my own kids, along with manners, empathy, responsibility and an education, a sense of humor. I come from a stock of people who enjoy laughing and whose sense of humor run towards smart alecky, so the genetics are there. I have, over the years, attempted to infuse my kids’ SpongeBob with Bugs Bunny, their Zack and Cody with The Marx Brothers and their Hannah Montana with Myrna Loy.
And they’ve taken to it, for the most part. I’ve heard their genuine laughing at the antics of the Marx Brothers and it reminds me of discovering them, prodded by my father, on Channel 3 Saturday afternoon movies when I was a kid.
Groucho died on this day in 1977, an anniversary now largely overshadowed by the death of Elvis Presley only three days prior. There is no home to make a pilgrimage to, no Greasepaintland, so we’ll have to put a DVD in, one of those classic Irving Thalberg films, and remember the man as best we can, with a song, a cigar and a deeply felt belly laugh.